RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—When I married my first husband, I gained some of the best sisters-in-law any woman could wish for, one of whom had previously married into a wonderful extended Mexican-American family in northern Arizona. Being a fan of both Mexican food and making things from scratch, I was quite excited when Rita told me she was going to make some homemade tortillas when I visited her once…and I can still remember my disillusion when she pulled the Bisquick box out of the pantry and whipped up a big batch. The resulting tortillas were delicious with just the right texture, but it just somehow seemed wrong.
You can make homemade tortillas out of organic whole wheat, GMO-free corn, and even a natural version of Bisquick, if you're in a hurry. Tastewise, they all beat out the ones in plastic bags from the supermarket, hands down!
½ cup water
2 cups natural baking mix, such as Arrowhead Mills All-Purpose Baking Mix
2 Tablespoons olive oil
In a mixing bowl, add most of the water to the mix and stir until combined. The result should be a single ball of firm but not sticky dough. If your mix is still a little dry, add the remaining water a little at a time until your dough reaches the right consistency.
Knead for about a minute, and roll into small balls of dough. You'll get about 5 to 6 balls per cup of mix used; start with more, smaller balls until you get the hang of rolling and cooking tortillas, then move onto fewer larger ones if you want to. When you finish, put them in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, or prep them up to a day in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container.
Place one ball between two sheets of natural wax paper, and flatten it with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle, doing your best to make it the same thickness all over. Don't worry if your tortillas aren't round, they will still taste fine. Cook each tortilla on a preheated ungreased cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, turning once after about 30 seconds. The tortilla is done when it puffs up and you see brown spots on both sides. Wrap finished tortillas in a clean tea towel so they stay warm and tender. Serve them warm with butter (plain, or sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for a sweet treat), or use them to make Mexican dishes. Or turn them into chips (see below).
Whole Wheat Tortillas
These days, I prefer whole grain tortillas, and they only take a few seconds longer to mix up than the "quick" ones do.
½ cup water
2 cups organic whole wheat flour ("white" whole wheat is good; I like to grind my own just beforehand)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil or soft lard (from pastured pigs, if you can find it)
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, including the olive oil or lard. Then proceed as for quick tortillas. With whole grain, though, it's better to refrigerate the balls of dough at least overnight, as it seems to help them hold together better. Make sure you refrigerate them in an airtight container.
• Flax-Whole Wheat Tortillas. Use the same ingredients as whole wheat, just substitute up to 3 tablespoons of the flour with finely ground organic flaxseed.
• Spinach Tortillas. Just like whole wheat tortillas, but you also need 8 ounces of fresh or frozen spinach. Cook the spinach, lightly steaming it in a little water if fresh, or per package directions if frozen. Save the cooking water, which you'll substitute for your ½ cup plain water. Blend the cooked spinach into a smooth puree. Combine the spinach puree with the flour, baking powder, salt, and oil or lard, and add just enough of the cooking water to make a firm ball of dough.
• Gluten-free Tortillas. Many commercial gluten-free flour blends make good tortillas. Just substitute the gluten-free flour for the whole wheat flour in the recipe above. Some mixes may fall apart when you try to roll them out, and they may be easier to work with if you add a ½ tablespoon of xanthan gum when you are mixing the dough in the first place. You'll have to experiment a bit.
Corn tortillas are made from a special corn product known as masa harina, which you can usually find in the ethnic food aisle of large supermarkets. Masa harina is made from corn soaked in lye to soften it, then pounded, dried, and ground. Don't try to substitute corn meal or even corn flour for masa harina in corn tortillas. Look for masa harina made from GMO-free corn, like that from Bob's Red Mill Golden Corn Flour Masa Harina or, if you can find one, a certified-organic version like Home Naturals' White Corn Masa Harina.
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2½ cups masa harina
Combine all your ingredients, adding most of the water to get your single ball of firm but not sticky dough. As with quick tortillas, add the rest of the water little bits at a time until the dough reaches the proper consistency. Knead for a minute, and shape into 12 balls. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then roll out into 6-inch tortillas; corn tortillas are difficult to make larger than about 6 inches across, as the dough doesn't stick together the way a wheat dough does. Cook as you would quick or whole-wheat tortillas, until each side is lightly brown and the edges start to dry out.
Baked Tortilla Chips
SO much taster than the kind in the bag, and low in fat, too!
Tortillas (any type)
Dry seasonings such as chili powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, or lime juice powder (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lay your cooked tortillas out on a clean, flat work surface and either spritz both sides with a little olive oil in a spray can or use a pastry brush (even a small bit of clean cloth will do) to give both sides a thin coating of olive oil. Sprinkle the oiled tortillas with salt and/or spices as desired. Stack them up and use a sharp knife to cut the pile into wedges the size you want your chips. Arrange the wedges in a single layer on cookie sheets and bake for about 6 minutes, keeping a watchful eye on them so they don't get too brown. Remove the sheets from the oven and let the chips cool (if you can wait); they will get crispier as they cool. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container.
Tip: How to freshen up a store-bought tortilla.
If you're not the sort to make your own tortillas, you can still make store-bought tortillas taste almost homemade. One great tip I learned from another of my extended Mexican family—Aunt Alice—was to toast one briefly over a gas stove flame. (You can do this on an electric coil stove, though little bits tend to stick to the burner and smoke. If you have a modern flat-topped ceramic cook surface, you'll need to heat a heavy skillet and heat the tortillas on it.)
I just turn on a burner and flop a single tortilla right on top, with the far edge of the tortilla lined up with the far side of the flame or coil. This leaves some excess tortilla off the flame toward me. Every couple of seconds I grab the cool edge that is toward me with my fingers—use tongs if you prefer—and flip and rotate the tortilla a quarter turn, until both sides have been kissed by the flame and it is puffing up. Corn tortillas don't usually puff up, they just get more flexible. Wrap the freshened tortillas in a clean tea towel as you would for fresh-made tortillas. You can also stack store-bought tortillas on a glass pie plate, cover them with a moist washcloth, and microwave for 30-second zaps until they are warmed through, but microwaving doesn't give you the nice extra-smoky flavor a good toasting does.
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